What I Have Written: A Novel of Erotic Obsession - John A. Scott
What I Have Written opens with a lengthy section consisting of a narrative that was read by its author's wife after his sudden stroke. The characters in this "novella" wear their disguised names lightly: "Avery" is Christopher, the author; "Gillian" is Sorel, his wife; and "Catherine" is Frances, the woman with whom he exchanged increasingly erotic letters. Sorel read it, and found that everything in it that she could verify was exactly true; and thus was forced to believe that its emotional content was also true -- an intensely painful experience, since it appeared to reveal that he had despised her all the while she was unaware of it; that he had desires that he had never shared with her from the very beginning of their marriage; that when, after some months of sleeping apart and no longer speaking to her, he came to her, reconciled, and told her he loved her, this was but a calculated act, inspired by his affair-in-letters.

Since, during the second part of the novel ("written" by Sorel), Christopher is already unconscious and dying in the hospital, the only impression that readers get of him is as he seems as narrator of the "novella". It is not a flattering picture. The writing is highly literary, but without lightness or charm; the depictions of sex are totally explicit without (in my opinion) being arousing. This makes the series of letters from "Catherine" to "Avery" that are included rather surprising. His letters to her are not reprinted; however, we can infer from her replies that, from friendly, she becomes increasingly charmed by him and finally passionate. Yet nothing we have seen of Christopher so far indicates him capable of writing such winning letters -- especially since Frances appears (especially in those of her letters reprinted outside the "novella") to be a woman of sensitivity, experience, and intelligence.

The third part of the novel, "written" by Christopher's friend Jeremy, contains revelations that explain some things about the "novella" and its history. These may explain some puzzling inconsistencies in Christopher/Avery's character and especially in Frances/Catherine's. Sometimes she reveals a remarkable mind (her letter of August 23 is quite charming -- I'd rather like to quote from it at length) but other times she's a cliché sexpot. The account of her first (and only) private conversation with "Avery" was so predictable it made me groan -- when it began, I thought I knew how it would run if "Catherine" was the model seductress; and it did so exactly.

What I Have Written is a tangle of narrative voices, of multiple "hands" contributing to the "writing". John A. Scott largely leaves sorting them out as an exercise for the reader. Ultimately, the reader is likely to close the book with the feeling of having been manipulated, by some of the "authors" and especially by the author. Does the payoff justify it? Sadly, I'd say no. I enjoy an intellectual puzzle, but this one is neither deep enough to provide continuing matter for thought, nor neat enough to provide the consolation prize of relaxing pleasure. Scott has largely sacrificed characters and subordinate themes in the service of a cold narrative game that doesn't repay much.